Friday, January 30, 2009

Narnia Developments

As some of you may have heard, Disney has walked away from the Chronicles of Narnia franchise, leaving Walden Media looking for new partners. This piece from the L.A. Times has some insight into what happened between the studios. Here is an excerpt:

So why would Disney walk away from such a valuable property? The back story is complicated, to say the least. The obvious reason was that compared to the astounding success of the first film, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which amassed nearly $750 million in global business, the second film in the series, 2008's "Prince Caspian," was a big disappointment, grossing roughly $420 million. Still, $420 million is nothing to sneeze at, being way more money than any Disney film, except for "Wall-E," made all year.

But it turns out that "Prince Caspian" didn't just bring in less money, but it cost more to make and market--a lot more. Disney acknowledges that the film cost roughly $225 million, with nearly $100 million of that going for the film's elaborate special effects. Even worse, because the studio was trying to expand the series' audience by going after teen moviegoers as well as families, Disney overspent on marketing, with some insiders estimating that the studio spent as much as $175 million on worldwide marketing for the film.

But what really derailed Disney's involvement with "Narnia" was a nasty feud between the studio and Phil Anschutz, the real estate baron and supporter of Christian conservative causes who seems to own half of America. Anschutz has a stake in or outright ownership of Regal Entertainment Group (the nation's biggest movie theater chain), Staples Center, the Kodak Theatre, the Los Angeles Galaxy, the L.A. Kings, London's Millennium Dome, a string of U.S. newspapers (including the San Francisco Examiner) and Walden Media, which has produced such films as "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "Nim's Island" and "Because of Winn-Dixie." So when Anschutz gets into an ugly dispute with Disney, we're talking about a true battle of the titans.

What happened? Keep reading:

According to multiple sources, the once-close relationship between Disney and Walden began to unravel when, after the first "Narnia" film cleaned up at the box office, Anschutz essentially put a gun to Disney's head and demanded that the studio renegotiate its deal with Walden. Anschutz insisted that Disney either gave back a sizable chunk of the studio's lucrative distribution fee or Anschutz would distribute the "Narnia" series on his own. Believing the franchise was too good to give up, Disney reluctantly changed the terms of its Walden deal, but the renegotiation poisoned relations between the two behemoths. When the second film faltered, there was so little good will left over that Disney had far less qualms abou t cutting its ties with the franchise.

20th Century Fox has since walked in to fill the void left by Disney. What exactly that means is hard to say. With Fox involved that could mean more corporate meddling with the creative process, which rarely leads to good things. On the other hand, films of this scale cost a lot of money and without another major player involved it is inconceivable that the film could get made.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Girl, Interrupted at Winona State University

WSU’s sociology club will show the movie “Girl, Interrupted” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 27, in the Art Tye Lounge, Kryzsko Commons.

A discussion about the sociology of mental disorder will follow.

Popcorn and hot chocolate will be provided.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sounds of Cinema Best and Worst of 2008

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema broadcast my picks of the best and worst films of the past year.

First, the ten best:
  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Slumdog Millionaire
  3. Doubt
  4. WALL-E
  5. Milk
  6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  7. The Visitor
  8. The Wrestler
  9. Son of Rambow
  10. John Adams

And the ten worst:

  1. 10,000 B.C.
  2. College
  3. You Don't Mess With the Zohan
  4. The Spirit
  5. Bangkok Dangerous
  6. Semi-Pro
  7. Eagle Eye
  8. Max Payne
  9. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
  10. The Day the Earth Stood Still

You can find rationales for each film and other supplementary material, including honorable mentions and a list of notable performances, here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Acadamy Award Nominations

The Academy Award nominations were announced today. Here are the nominees:

Best Actress:

  • Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
  • Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  • Melissa Leo - Frozen River
  • Meryl Streep - Doubt
  • Kate Winslet - The Reader

Best Actor:

  • Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn - Milk
  • Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
  • Richard Jenkins - The Visitor

Best Actress In A Supporting Role:

  • Amy Adams - Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis - Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Best Actor In A Supporting Role:

  • Josh Brolin - Milk
  • Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
  • Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
  • Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Best Picture:

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Reader
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk

Achievement In Directing:

  • David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
  • Gus Van Sant - Milk
  • Stephen Daldry - The Reader
  • Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire

Adapted Screenplay:

  • Eric Roth, Robin Swicord - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • John Patrick Shanley - Doubt
  • Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
  • David Hare - The Reader
  • Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay:

  • Courtney Hunt - Frozen River
  • Mike Leigh - Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Martin McDonagh - In Bruges
  • Dustin Lance Black - Milk
  • Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter - Wall-e

Best Animated Feature Film:

  • Bolt
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Wall-e

Achievement In Art Direction:

  • James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis - Changeling
  • Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando - The Dark Knight
  • Michael Carlin, Rebecca Alleway - The Duchess
  • Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt - Revolutionary Road

Achievement In Cinematography:

  • Tom Stern - Changeling
  • Claudio Miranda - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Wally Pfister - The Dark Knight
  • Chris Menges, Roger Deakins - The Reader
  • Anthony Dod Mantle - Slumdog Millionaire

Achievement In Costume Design:

  • Catherine Martin - Australia
  • Jacqueline West - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Michael O'Connor - The Duchess
  • Danny Glicker - Milk
  • Albert Wolsky - Revolutionary Road

Best Documentary Feature:

  • The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
  • Encounters at the End of the World
  • The Garden
  • Man on Wire
  • Trouble the Water

Best Documentary Short Subject:

  • The Conscience of Nhem En
  • The Final Inch
  • Smile Pinki
  • The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Achievement In Film Editing:

  • Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Lee Smith - The Dark Knight
  • Mike Hill, Dan Hanley - Frost/Nixon
  • Elliot Graham - Milk
  • Chris Dickens - Slumdog Millionaire

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
  • The Class (France)
  • Departures (Japan)
  • Revanche (Austria)
  • Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

Tune into Sounds of Cinema this Sunday, January 25th, to hear my assessment of 2008, including my picks of the best and worst films of the past year.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film Events at Winona State University

There are two film related events going on at the Winona State Univeristy campus today:

The Frozen Film Festival starts today, January 21st and goes through January 25th. According to the website, the festival "identifies and offers programs that engage, educate and activate viewers to become involved in the world. These programs provide a unique perspective on environmental issues, sustainable communities, extreme sports, adventure travel and diverse cultures, presenting issues not often covered in the local media. We connect our viewers with people at the heart of breaking events, organizations in the forefront of social change and the cultures of an increasingly global community."

WSU's Nursing Students for Choice will present the film I Had an Abortion by Gilliam Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner at 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 21, in Purple Room 105 in the Kryzsko Commons. Admission is free.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sounds of Cinema End of 2008 Wrap Up Imminent

After writing over 100 reviews, taking a few trips to the Twin Cities, and haggling over the order, I am finally ready to air the Sounds of Cinema End of 2008 Wrap Up!

On January 25th, 2009 I will count down my picks of the best and worst films of 2008 and comment on some of the trends I observed. Tune in to see if your favorites made the cut.

After the show is broadcast, the lists and the rationale for each film will be posted in the FEATURES section of the Sounds of Cinema website.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sounds of Cinema error in Mankato

Those who tuned in to hear Sounds of Cinema on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato this morning heard a re-run of last week's episode (number 222). The correct episode (number 223) should air this afternoon on 89.5 KQAL FM and can be heard over the air in the Winona area or on the web at

Thursday, January 8, 2009

People's Choice Awards Commentary

Whitney Pastorek has posted this blog about the "winners" of the People's Choice Awards. This last paragraph sums up her--and many of my--opinions about the awards circuit:

The only thing I can hope for is this: When people like Kid Rock and Adam Sandler take to the microphone and crow ever so humbly about how their work is not "for the critics," but "for the people," all of us will take a second to remember that there is nothing wrong with a people who are also critical. Whether we use our mouses, our remotes, our blogs, or our hard-earned cash, it is up to us to decide what kind of culture we want to live in. And while it may be easy and indeed quite fun to stand in a metaphorical mosh pit and high-five every shiny famous person who comes down the pike, I happen to believe we as a people are capable of ever so much more. (Need proof? The Dark Knight.) To echo last night's oft-repeated phrase, Yes we can demand excellence. Yes we can think analytically, write articulately, and speak passionately about art and artists in our society. I go so far as to say it is our responsibility. We cannot let crap like this win.

Pastorek's comments are well taken. If the filmmakers really make things "for the viewers" then they should stop insulting them by making crap. Viewers owe it to themselves to make their voices heard whenever possible and demand better work from the studios. The fact that The Dark Knight did so well is an encouraging sign as it shows just how hungry the audience is for good work that is entertaining and relevant.

On the other hand, there are two catches to all this. First, as mentioned in my previous post on this blog, in many cineplexes, especially those in smaller communities, the You Don't Mess With the Zohans of the world crowd out the Doubts and the Wrestlers. The public can only really choose, either with their web browsers or with their wallets, if they are able to to get to the good stuff. Hollywood has made it too difficult to see their best work, which makes absolutely no sense.

Second, even the critics make mistakes or change their minds. When Psycho came out it was dismissed by critics although it succeeded with the public. Citizen Kane was both a critical and box office failure. Now both are cornerstones of film studies programs. My point is that the critics are important but not omnipotent and what we should strive for is not a situation where the year end box office receipts match the Oscar nominations, but rather a culture of more educated consumers who refuse to give themselves over to the latest gimmick and who demand better a better product.

This is a long term goal, but one that the entertainment industry might be breeding for itself. By creating more television and radio stations, more outlets for film, and the ever expanding world wide web, producers will be forced to think more creatively and hopefully produce better work to capture an audience.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 End of the Year Wrap Up Coming Soon

Long time listeners of this show are aware that every January I usually do a wrap up of the previous year, counting down my picks for the ten best and worst films and making note of some of the trends. A wrap up of 2008 is coming but it will air a little later than in previous years. In order to make the list legitimate, I always attempt to see the films that have lots of award buzz about them (although I have to resign myself to missing some pictures until they arrive on video, and relegating them to the "Good Buzz List" on the countdown). Many of these films do not open wide until Oscar time (late February or early March) to capitalize on award publicity and still others never make it to southern Minnesota, where I reside.

In the four years I have been doing this show, 2008 has been by far the most difficult year to see these award-circuit films. This is partly due to my relocation from Mankato (which had two first-run theaters and one second-run theater) to Winona (which has only one first-run theater but others in adjacent cities and towns). It is also due to the release strategy of the studios, which have not yet released films like The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Wendy and Lucy, or Che in this state. It is extremely aggravating to see trailers advertizing the pictures and read publications praising these films as the best work of the year but then having to wait months and months to get a chance to see them, and even then having to drive two and a half hours through a snow storm to get to a theater that is screening them.

But rest assured that the Sounds of Cinema 2008 Year End Wrap Up will be broadcast by the end of January and as always I will place the text of my lists on the website. You can find information on previous End of the Year Wrap Ups here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Commentary of Fox

This article is an interesting rant on Twentieth Century Fox, a studio that has released a spate of poor science fiction and fantasy films lately, despite owning rights to some major franchises. An excerpt:

Now that it's clear Fox wants to delay — or derail — the Watchmen movie, fans are talking boycott. There's only one problem: you can't boycott something unless you actually want to see it.

Fox has an almost unbroken record of putting out crap genre films over the past few years. Based on the studio's track record alone, you'd have to be a bit of a masochist to want to consume any more films like X-Files 2, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Eragon, Max Payne, The Happening, Space Chimps, Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Meet Dave, Jumper, or X-Men: The Last Stand. (To be fair, the studio also released City Of Ember, which I loved, and the Simpsons movie, in the last few years.)

These are not just movies you're better off renting. These movies are the reason there's a 4:20 in the morning as well as the afternoon — they probably look pretty good if you're both sleep-deprived and stoned.

Proving there is some justice, Fox has been suffering financially as a result. Says the Wall Street Journal:

Operating income at Fox Filmed Entertainment dropped 31% to $251 million for the fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30, in part because this summer's results were weak in comparison with last summer's.

Fox's losing streak only ended with the release of Marley And Me, which looks to be a minor success.

And, by all accounts, Fox's output hasn't gotten wretched by accident. One hears stories about studio execs, hacking up movies to shorten them and dumb them down. Director Alex Proyas has publicly sworn never to work with Fox again, after his experience making I, Robot, and Matthieu Kassovitz has said similar things about Babylon A.D.